Bid to relax sewage rule

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Environmentalists are shocked the Christchurch City Council wants the freedom to pour raw sewage into the Avon and Heathcote rivers more often.

The council also wants to be able to increase the number of places around the city where it can release untreated sewage.

One environmentalist says the council's plan is "completely unacceptable".

The council says upgrading Christchurch's wastewater network to ensure fewer sewage discharges into the city's rivers is an ineffective use of money, with no environmental benefit.

As reported in The Press's State of Our Rivers series last year, the council cannot meet its consent condition to discharge sewage into the Avon and Heathcote catchments only once every two years.

That is despite spending more than $40 million upgrading the network, which can be overwhelmed by stormwater in heavy rain, causing overflows of untreated sewage.


The council is seeking a variation from Environment Canterbury (ECan) to lower the standard to once every six months and increase the number of discharge sites from 12 to 25.

City council network planning manager Simon Collin said achieving the standard of one discharge in two years was "not an effective use of ratepayers' money, given that there is no tangible net benefit to the environment from doing so".

Original estimates for the work were $40 million, but while the Heathcote River work was finished, another $125 million would need to spent on the Avon, he said.

Computer modelling suggested maintaining the network may cost another $120 million.

The increased costs were coupled with an economic recession, and the consent variation would give the council "breathing space".

The original consent conditions required the capital upgrade to be completed on the Heathcote by 2005 and on the Avon by 2010.

The new consent would push the deadline for the Avon back to 2017.

Peter Taylor, the Green Party candidate for Wigram at last year's general election, said the council's view was "completely unacceptable" and would provoke a tremendous amount of concern. "The idea that human excrement floating through our iconic waterways is not of any tangible benefit to be removed is a little bit shocking," he said.

Spending $125 million cleaning up the wastewater network was reasonable considering the council boasted assets of $4.7 billion.

Avon-Heathcote Estuary Ihutai Trust chairman Alex Drysdale said there were significant health risks associated with sewage overflows, and he accused the council of "shifting the goalposts" in its attempt to relax consent conditions.

"If it wasn't dangerous, why would we have a sewer system?" he said.

He had sympathy for ECan's position as "policeman and executioner", but said it was being asked to do too much and could not deliver.

"There's no public defender of the environment," he said.

Mt Pleasant Yacht Club commodore Tony Wornall said it was not advised of a spill a few years ago and a few members suffered stomach bugs.

Any dilution of the standard was a big concern, he said.

"Our concern is the health of our members using the Estuary."

The consent application, which the city council has asked to be publicly notified, conflicts with ECan's proposed natural resources regional plan, which forbids such discharges into the rivers.

There were nine overflows into the Avon and Heathcote last year seven over an eight-week period during winter.

The application is likely to be publicly notified next month.


The Press